Friday, 26 April 2013

Chicago - The Nashville Sessions

I haven't reviewed a new CD for a while. I've got some new ones in the pipeline, but here is the first:

Chicago - The Nashville Sessions

When it comes to Chicago, I'm a bit of a complete-ist. I have all of the numbered albums, either on Vinyl or on CD, plus one "boot" of the Toronto concert that everyone seems to have released, as well as Live in Japan on MP3s. I also have several of the solo albums by Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera and the Howland-Imboden Project (and HLMP). I don't have any of the DVD's, but there are a couple on my wish-list.

The problem with Chicago is the lack of new music. Several years ago we got XXX (2005?), which I don't know how that was achieved except through counting some greatest hits and Christmas albums in the numbering. What are 27-29? Good question. What is 22? Another good question, since it was later released as XXXII (recorded in 1994?). What is 31? Apparently there is an album of new music in the works. What will they name that? 40?

The Nashville Sessions is un-numbered, so it avoids that issue (maybe). It is a re-recording of 15 of their mostly-Kath-era hits. (There are two lame Donnie Dacus-era songs, too, from Hot Streets.)

Why did I buy it? 

I was hoping it would be an updating of the hits like the live Chicago 26 album with the latest personnel, but it wasn't. Recorded in 2009, Bill Champlin is gone, but there is no sign of the two new guys, Lou Pardini, and Walfredo Reyes (who arrived later). I can live with that, but the premise of this album is wrong. What they have done is re-recorded the songs almost exactly as they originally appeared, attempting to even duplicate some inaccuracies.


Got me. You get the same solos, for the most part, and as much a re-creation of the original vocals as they could assemble without Kath, Cetera, or Dacus. You get the singles versions of Make Me Smile and More than Ever, crunched together to simulate the Ballet for the Girl in Buchanon, but separating out Color My World. They even further truncated the ending of More than Ever for no obvious reason. Was this an error in the editing room?

The sound is clearer than the originals, although I think the saxophone is further back in the brass mix, especially evident in the songs from Chicago VI. They might have tracked the brass individually, and that means they don't blend as well as in the old 16-track masters. The brass doesn't seem as full as in the original Chicago II recordings, although it is cleaner. The originals were noisy and slightly distorted, and very flat, even in the Rhino re-release. The brass in general might be further back in the mix, and are much drier.

Do I regret buying it (for $13.99)?

Well, yes, I suppose. For what it is, it is over-priced. You can only get it direct from the band through TopSpin Records, and the label is Chicago Records II, not to be confused with Chicago Records, who released 26, and some of the greatest hits albums. I don't know the story, but I assume they wound up that entity when they signed their deal with Rhino, only to reform after their Rhino contract was complete.

Chicago has yet to make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and for me, it is easy to see why: Terry Kath. He was a great guitarist, but the band never moved on. Even with this release they are re-hashing Kath-era hits in order to solidify their HOF creds. He died over 30 years ago guys, get over it! You will only find new fans with new music by the new guys. That's what Deep Purple has done over and over again. Simper is gone, so is Coverdale, so is Bolin, so is Blackmore, so is now Jon Lord. They moved on and another new album is imminent. They are already playing the new songs in concert before the release. That's how you do it. That's how you build and rebuild your audience. Stop trying to sound like Chicago 1976. Be Chicago 2013. Chicago was envisioned to be a faceless brand, but has turned into a Terry Kath tribute band.

2 (out of 5) stars for me, because the originals were so good, but I don't need yet another rehash of the hits.


David said...

Stephen, your review is spot on. I too have sent for The Nashville sessions, even though postage to the U.K. is ridiculously expensive, and even though I had already paid to download the tracks (I don't care what anybody says - MP3s are not as good quality as properly pressed CDs). Like you, I'm a completist. I have some interesting unofficial CDs, including a big band concert and a Christmas concert - both excellent quality. I have just sent for a Budokan double CD from a place called Record Heaven in Sweden. It's from the "19" tour. I already have the DVD and it's an excellent concert. The only way to describe DaWayne Bailey's guitar playing is "astonishing". I watch open-mouthed. The numbering of Chicago CDs is a mystery. The "Live '75" double is numbered 34 and the Japanese version of "Live in Japan" has 14 etched on the CDs! What the? I have given up and now have them in the order in which they were recorded. So "Stone" comes between "21" and "Night and Day". Drives me nuts, and my wife thinks I'm mad constantly re-arranging my collection.

Anonymous said...

I have been a fan of Chicago since "Transit Authority", and saw them twice during their visit to the UK in the late 60s - once at the Royal Albert Hall, then in a small,(very)sweaty club. Even if I buy these reduxes, which I won't, I'd never play them, whereas CTA gets played regularly, along with Live in Japan occasionally.

thereIsaidit said...

This is similar to what Squeeze did with "Spot the Difference," a re-recording of 14 of their most well-known hits. I understand that they did this for two reasons: 1 - to have cleanly (digitally) recorded versions, and (2) to make some bucks that they probably got screwed out of under their original contracts. I don't begrudge them that, and I appreciate the new high quality recordings.

Anonymous said...

It's funny you mentioned the "live '75" release. Having spent some time reconciling the album number scheme up until 30(XXX) I was slightly annoyed by 22 being released as 32, but when "live '75" was released, it was numbered 34 and about 6 months later, the released "O, Christmas Three" as 33. Originally, 34 was given a 2013 release date, so that would have been correct, but no one bothered to fix it when they released 34 a year early. Bill Champlin once said the Sons of Champlin never made it because "when opportunity knocked we answered the phone"
Well Chicago managed to succeed despite the fact that when one door closed, another one opened and they went out the window.

Stephen Ferre said...

IIRC, O Christmas Three, was released in 2012, which would put it ahead of Live '75.

But frankly, do we need another live Kath-era recording? I don't know how it compares to other legitimate live releases, but for me the only interest would be live post-Carnegie hall (IV) performances.

Anonymous said...

Sorry guys, I really like the Nashville Sessions. I feel that the horns have more of a voice than the originals. The sound is perfect for todays radios, mp3's, etc.

Great job Chicago!

Guy Lee said...

I think this album is cool. I'm a big fan of the older Chicago but this album sounds fun. Yes Kath was one of the all time greats. His guitar tone, voice and songwriting were all A+. With that said I believe this album still rocks. The production is pumpin'

Guy Lee said...

Great album. The production is top notch. I love the older Chicago but I'm enjoying this as well. Good job!

Anonymous said...

I too enjoy the album but have a problem with the track listings on the disk purchased directly from Chicago. The track listing matches CTA with three unlisted tracks. Am I the only one with this problem.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the sound, clarity and crispness of the instruments. I've seen Chicago twice now with Lou Pardini, and really like his take on the Kath leads. Sounds great on Make Me Smile. If they decide to do Sessions 2 with Dialogue and others, I'll purchase it too

JB Ramsey said...

I like it because this is how the songs sound today when you see Chicago live. Terry and Peter are gone, so we have different singers live. And Robert is forty-something years older now. I wasn't enthusiastic about the concept, but I really enjoy it. And the guitar solo on 25 or 6 to 4 is closer to the original from '69 than any live recording I've ever heard, including even Terry Kath's performances.

Stephen Ferre said...

If it really was how they would perform it today, I would have a better opinion of it. When they rerecorded it, they tried to duplicate the earlier performance, unlike the semi-live Chicago 26, where the updated their performances to suit the current personnel. This disc is clearer, but is a little sterile for my taste.